/ 29 September 2016

90% local content policy could cost SABC in future, says media expert

A decision by the SABC’s former chief operations officer
Labour fears that the unbundling of Eskom into three entities will result in job losses. Members of Cosatu marched to demand that the budget speech takes their views into account. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)

Broadcasting between 80-90% local content could cost the SABC further financial losses in future, says William Bird, a director at lobby group Media Monitoring Africa.

The SABC on Thursday released its results for the 2015/16 financial year in which it posted a R411-million net loss.

In the 2014/2015 financial year, the SABC reported a R395-million loss.

For the 2015/16 year, the SABC blamed its losses on factors ranging from the 2013 coverage of President Nelson Mandela’s funeral to a growth in post-retirement service costs.

But a decision by the SABC’s former chief operations officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, to implement a 90% local content policy for radio stations, and TV channels SABC 1 and 2, in May this year could spark further losses in the next financial year, said Bird.

Earlier this year, Motsoeneng told Fin24 that the SABC was also implementing an 80% local content policy for commercial television station SABC 3. The impact of these policies will only be seen in the next financial year, said Bird.

“I think, if anything, these results are flattering. That is if you can say to lose R411-million is flattering,” Bird told Fin24 by phone as he warned that future losses could be worse.

“This is the second year and the losses are increasing, albeit slowly. What we don’t know yet is the impact of the 90% local content regulations.

“It’s dependent on what the real impact of the 90% is going to be and where they’re going to get the money from to produce all this extra local content,” Bird told Fin24.

Bird has criticised Motsoeneng’s local content policy for being rushed through without fully considering the impact it could have on viewership and advertising.

“Unfortunately, or rather fortunately if we’re lucky, Mr Motsoeneng won’t be there next year to try and stand up and account for those,” said Bird.

“Whoever comes in will be left with that as a massive problem because of the significant impact that that would have had on the advertising revenue,” Bird added.

Controversy surrounding Motsoeneng 
Motsoeneng has come under growing pressure in the last few months.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed Motsoeneng’s application for leave to appeal a High Court ruling that his permanent COO appointment be set aside.

A public protector report previously found that Motsoeneng lied about having a matric qualification.

But earlier this week, the broadcaster announced that Motsoeneng will remain an employee at the public broadcaster and take up the position as the general executive of corporate affairs, his previous position.

Both the ANC and Cabinet have this week criticised the SABC’s decision to reappoint Motsoeneng.

Earlier this year, Motsoeneng also came under fire for driving a controversial policy that banned footage of protests.

Several SABC journalists were fired for standing up to the policy, only to be reinstated following a labour court judgment.

“This damage that Mr Motsoeneng and the senior management, and this current board have been doing at the SABC is going to be with us for a long time,” Bird told Fin24.

“You can’t go around and destroy systems and move people and get rid of some people with experience and just take people out and think that everything is going to be fine.

“11 CEOs in seven years. That’s an institution that’s got a habit of crisis and to break that is going to be something quite significant,” said Bird. — Fin24